Eating Habits of University Students May Be Linked to Metabolic Disorders

Poor eating habits are known to influence metabolic issues in adults; researchers sought to examine if they affect college-aged youth as well.

Three eating behaviors: “fast eating”, “eating late night snacks”, and “not eating breakfast”, as well as exercise habits, were linked to a weight gain of 3% or more in university students between the time of admission and their fifth year of study, according to research published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. Of these three habits, “fast eating” caused weight gain, while “skipping breakfast” was more likely to cause metabolic disorders, regardless of weight.

Investigators studied the eating habits of 100 Japanese medical students (63 men and 37 women) at the Oita University Faculty of Medicine in Yufu City, Japan. The retrospective analysis looked at fasting blood samples, two questionnaires on lifestyle and eating behaviors, blood pressure data, and anthropometric measurements (height, weight, and body mass index).

Researchers divided the students into three groups based on changes in weight following university admission. These groups included a weight loss group, a weight gain of less the 3% group, and a weight gain of more than 3% group. The researchers then analyzed the relationship between eating behaviors and clinical data related to weight gain and metabolic parameters.

Skipping breakfast interrupted the nighttime rhythm of the students, according to the study, and caused metabolic disorders regardless of current weight. These students typically exhibited the largest weight change pattern. The percentage of students who gained 3% or more in weight since the time of university admission also consumed 2-fold higher the amounts of soft drinks compared to the other groups. The habit of ‘fast eating” (eating meals too quickly) was also found to cause weight gain.

The students with a weight gain of more than 3% had significantly greater self-awareness of “fast eating”, “eating late-night snacks”, and “not eating breakfast” than those with a weight gain of less than 3% or a weight loss.  However, the researchers added, these students were also less aware that they would often eat while socializing.

Regular exercise was identified in 48% of the study participants, with the proportion being 3 times higher in men than in women. Eating behavior in the group with exercise habits may be related to increased calorie consumption, according to the researchers, who also noted a difference between university-aged students and people middle-aged and older, “in whom a lack of exercise habits leads to inadvertent weight gain.”

Study limitations included the retrospective nature of the analysis, the relatively small sample of students, the exclusion of smoking and drinking history, living environment details, and stress levels, as possible influences on eating behaviors and weight gain.

 “Chewing instruction to correct fast eating and avoiding skipping breakfast to adjust students’ daily rhythm should be part of health education for university students that aims to prevent metabolic syndrome,” the researchers concluded.


Kakuma T, Yoshida Y, Okamoto M, Shibata H, Tsutsumi T, Kudo Y. Effects of self-awareness of eating behaviors and differences in daily habits among Japanese university students on changes in weight and metabolism. J Endocrinol Metab. 2020; 10(5): 131-139. doi:10.14740/jem.v10i5.687